When we're kids, Egypt seems like the wondrous land of delights that it was in the eyes of Victorian England. Given the chance, we'd all gleefully use mummy spice on our fries, because it's not as if we'd ever get the chance to do it again. As we grow older, for many of us Egypt retains its splendour in our minds, retaining the glitter of gold funerary masks, exquisite organ jars, and baroque gods waiting for us to reach them after a Lord of the Rings-esque quest.
What we never expected is how claustrophobic the sarcophagus would be.
Dan Efran's title Ka, an entry in our interactive fiction and escape themed Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7, starts in decidedly close quarters, with your royal spirit crammed in next to your corpse. Most text adventures struggle to some degree with pacing, but in Ka, at least, your initial goal is clear: leave. After that? Well, you're dead. You have to come to terms with it sometime.
Like other text adventures, Ka is played through a command-line interface, where the player types simple sentences like >EXAMINE COFFIN and the game responds appropriately. On the user-friendliness scale, this one tips more towards classic fiction than Alabaster, which means that brand-new users might have a bit of difficulty with it. Although there is an "about" command for new users, it doesn't help with the restrictive first scene. Most puzzles are solved by singing ritualistic songs that you've brought to the afterlife, so a tutorial on that mechanic would have been welcome.
Ka is light on story and long on puzzles. If you're an aspiring Mensa member, or just someone who likes doing the crossword, this one will intrigue you. Some of the puzzles are quite ingenious; one, involving a mechanical beetle, was a lot of fun, although my head spins at the thought of trying to code it. Technically, Ka is impressive: considering that the main element of play involves a lot of custom vocabulary and verbs, the lack of bugs is commendable. The writing can be sparse at times, but on the whole the image of an Egyptian afterlife is well realized. One standout character is the game-playing automaton, who I found very vivid despite his lack of dialogue and constrained movement. The puzzles share a basic structure and ramp up in difficulty gradually. At first the songs you'll need to sing to proceed are clear, but eventually you'll need to use your ingenuity to make it all the way to the end. Although I was sometimes stuck, I was never frustrated.
All in all, Ka is a fun excursion into Egyptian myth, and well worth a try.